The Bomber by Liza Marklund
Some of her compatriots prefer roaming through vast tracts of anonymous countryside, with barns, shacks and empty garages serving their nefarious ends; others enjoy the dynamism of high-speed highways, airports and international travel; still others favour exposing the secrets and lies of life in suburbia.
In her latest Annika Bengtzon thriller, The Bomber, Liza Marklund sticks fast to her favourite urban zone, the Swedish capital, where Annika lives with her husband Thomas and their two young children and works – every hour that God sends, seemingly – as a top crime reporter for a leading daily newspaper.
Unlike Red Wolf, released here last year but published in original Swedish seven years earlier, The Bomber is fresh off the presses. It’s a better read for it – the writing is sharper and Marklund’s instincts for character development more honed.
Its premise is almost dangerously uncomplicated, as Scandinavian thrillers go. (It bears noting that for her pains, Marklund is in the unenviable position of having to compete in this thriving subgenre with some of the finest practitioners around, including Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell and the late Steig Larsson, whose fourth novel may yet be released.)
The Bomber opens action-movie style, with the murder of a woman and Annika leaping out of bed in immediate pursuit of both victim’s and killer’s identities. That Annika and not the police will find the bomber is never much in question. The deceased turns out to be Christina Furhage, the head of the Olympic Games soon to be held in Sweden, and her end came via explosive device inside Victoria Stadium, one of the prime Olympic venues.
Christina had received death threats and was under the highest level of protection – but, as the police disclose to Annika (suspension of disbelief is a prerequisite whenever a Marklund cop wanders into the scene), all alarms at the stadium had been deactivated. Moreover, Christina had no obvious reason to be there in the middle of the night. Annika’s investigation will of course reveal that there was little clear about the Olympic chief, and that following the trail of debris through her mysterious past will lead to her killer.
The presence of a villain offers invigorating possibilities to a storyteller, but when the titular character inevitably is revealed, Marklund spends little time exploring the motives of the bomber, who isn’t nearly as interesting as the protagonist. Indeed, by the climactic point, Marklund – and the reader – have been overtaken by affectionate irritation with Annika, whose workaholism once again threatens the stability of her personal life, but who, as ever, grittily yanks her marriage back from the abyss. And as fictional analyses of unions go, it’s pretty even-handed.
Though it’s unusually straightforward for a crime thriller, The Bomber is no less powerful for it. And it’s satisfying in large part for the evident fondness Marklund feels for her longtime heroine. The author, herself a former reporter, subjects Annika to the brutal unpleasantness of newsroom politics and takes evident satisfaction in her woman’s refusal to be cowed. She knows she’ll always come out on top.
Previously reviewed on Coast FM.
Reviewer: Stephanie Jones